We head back into Nelson in the morning to take a picture at the ‘Centre of New Zealand’, also home to the first NZ Rugby game in 1878. Then into Montgomery Square where there is a Saturday market, much like in Penticton. Here there is fresh produce and fruit, butchers, artisans and clothing as well as some food stalls. After an hour wander, we are heading the short 1 ½ trip to Picton. But first we have to go back to the Airbnb, Gail has left her PJs behind!
Thinking we have left the mountains behind turns out to not be true and while it is only a short trip this is by far the windiest stretch of road yet. Never fun in the very back. We stop at Pelorus Bridge Reserve. This area is the last remnants of lowland alluvial forest in Marlborough. Spared from loggers in the 1865 because it had originally been reserved for a township. Ultimately the town never materialized but the locals recognized that it needed to be preserved and it was designated a reserve area in 1912.
The bridge has as great view of the gorge and down below dozens of people are enjoying the warm water pools, including some teenagers using a rope tied to the bridge to fling themselves into the middle of the river. It is a very beautiful spot and most of us cool ourselves down on this hot 29C day, with the best Hokey Pokey ice cream so far. Plenty of crunchy honey balls in this one.
Once we get down into the valley, we are deep in wine country. This is a much wider valley than the Okanagan, so the vineyards are primarily on the flat. We are booked for lunch at the Twelve Trees Restaurant at the Alllan Scott Winery.
The vine manager for Bob and Jan’s vineyard in UK knows Allan Scott and had tried to arrange a meeting with Bob when he was in the UK. Unable to make it work he contacted Allan to arrange for lunch reservation and a private tour of the facilities.
It is a stunning place and we have a beautiful table under the peaked gazebo. The day is perfect not too hot, and we are able to stroll around the lovely gardens adjacent. The food is fantastic, and everyone raves about their dish. Gail has the snapper and I the have the chicken liver, thyme and bacon pate which is amazing.
After lunch Allan comes back to escort us over to the winery operations. He starts with the history of his wife and him planting their first vines back in 1975. At that time, and for the next 30 years Allan was involved at senior management levels in some of the biggest wineries in NZ, including Stoneleigh, which we get plenty of at home
Today three generations run the winery, Allan primarily retired but still out in the vineyards. His son the winemaker, one daughter doing the business end and marketing and the other running the restaurant and one of his granddaughters working in the restaurant. Like most in Marlborough they are know for their Sauvignon Blanc, but we enjoy a delicious Chardonnay at lunch.
The son continually experiments and is also into craft beers, being one of the first to develop them in NZ after his return of working in the US. He in fact is NZ’s only recognized ‘beer master’. Unforatunely his craft beer experiment was just premature, and the industry didn’t really develop till much later.
The winery owns about half of their own vineyards and purchase the rest but having control over the maintenance of the other vines. They produce 120-130K cases a year, of which half is exported. The mix is 70% white to 30% red, including a few versions of bubbly.
After our tour we head into the Cellar Door (their name for the tasting room) for a tasting and find that the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are both delightful. The Pinot Noir grapes however come from down south near Queensland which is the known area for those grapes and wines.
While the others take pictures in the vineyards Gail and I cross the road. Cloudy Bay is directly across the street and we want to taste there. Sadly, we have just missed the opportunity as it is 4:10 pm and they close at 4.
We head the last 30 minutes down the road to the picturesque little town of Picton. Right on Queen Charlotte Sound we have 3 rooms overlooking the harbour. We have two nights here before we take the ferry to the North Island. Unfortunately, we have a bit of an accident when parking. A large tour bus made for a tight squeeze with our beast and Bob misjudged the back end as he was worried about the front and the bus. So we back into a little car, crunching in it’s side and breaking our tail light.
We are at the Picton Yacht Club Hotel and it disappoints. First the carpets in the hall are badly stained. We are sharing the penthouse with Bob and Jan and it is supposed to have two rooms each with two double beds and a single bed. Instead we have two rooms one with a King, one with a queen and one ‘child’s room’. It is the size of a closet with a single bed … guess this is where being the youngest doesn’t pay off!
While it is very large and has a stunning view there is no air conditioning which in my little room will be a problem. We try and keep a cross breeze but that just causes the doors to slam. So, I situate the one fan outside my door. Surprisingly aircon is not common and even our high-end hotel in Wellington only has a fan.
Bob fires off a note to Booking.com that what they advertised and what we got are far apart. We are hoping to get some discount as it wasn’t cheap, $530 NZ a night!!
A stroll amongst the shops and cocktails at the old hotel before finding a spot for dinner. It is their Maritime Festival, and everything is jam packed this Saturday night. The little hole in the wall we manage to get into is not bad and descent pricing.
Back for a nightcap and our view pays off as they have a fantastic firework display for the festival.
The next morning after breakfast we book an E-Ko tour. This is a 2-hour boat and walk trip. Leaving from the harbour across to Kippur Point, a wildlife and bird sanctuary. When we ask if we will see Kiwis, the girl replies, “No, even most Kiwis have not seen a Kiwi”.
The walk is about an hour long up to the top of the point for stunning views of the Sound. Along route Emma, our guide, points out the various native NZ vegetation and birds. She also explains the various wooden boxes every few feet. In a bid to rid the conservation area of predators, most of who were introduced from other places they have traps set, different styles along the paths. Everyday volunteers, some 100 of them of small town of 3,000 check the traps, remove predators, like possums and rats, weasels and stoats.
The work is being very effective. The Australian Possum, once numbering 80M is now down to 40M. Along our trek we see a dead rat below one of the newer style traps. This trap attracts them by food and when they stick their head into the trap, a carbon dioxide triggers a bolt that instantly kills them. Sounds awful but is supposed to be more humane then the old fashion rat traps.
We are introduced to the Rimu tree whose leaves feel like plastic Velcro and can leave for over a 1000 yrs. Every species has a local sponsor that pays for the planting native trees. As with down south, they are working to eliminate the pine trees introduced by foreigner’s way back when that have taken over.
Other reintroduced trees are the Manuka, which is known of course for its honey and Tea Tree Oil. The Rangora whose leaf is the outdoors enthusiast’s natural toilet paper and can also serve as parchment to write on. And the KawaKawa with heart shaped leaves good for blood pressure. The more holes the better. Of course, there are the silver ferns used in the old days by the Maori’s as a form of light. They placed them upside down on pathways to reflect the moonlight. Very clever.
We check the nesting boxes of the Blue Penguin, but they are empty this afternoon. It is the smallest penguin in the world, at a maximum height of 30cm, and will climb up as high as 300m to next. We reach the top and there are spectacular views. Our guide offers to take pictures for us and so I suggest our team get a group photo. An older couple thought it meant the whole group and photo bomb us!
On the trek back down, we have the best sighting, a Fantail flitting about in the bush. I get some great video. We could have watched all day, but it is time to go back to the boat.
They take us across to Double Cove an area for fish protected by the local islanders. The trip is supposed to serve wine and mussels. Which is true but it is few mouthfuls of wine and a mussel. Which turns out to be pickled and mine quickly becomes fish food. The others really love it.
Here in the cove we see a large group of Shags (like Falcons) in the trees. When he throws some fish food in, the Blue Cod and Mullets swarm the boat. The scenery is so lush and dotted with some fantastic holiday homes.
After a picnic on the waterfront we all go our separate ways for a bit. Bob and Jan walk out to the old yacht club ...thinking it’s a restaurant. Gail and I check a few shops, buying new earrings and then have a glass of wine and oysters. The other four take a 5-seater motorcycle ride out to the end of the cape with another beautiful view of the Sound.
We head off to change but first Gail and I take a dip in the pool. It is ‘refreshing’ for sure but once in very nice on this hot 29C day. The winds make it cool out of the water as they are pretty strong. In fact, I learn from Bob about Katabatic winds that come from the great difference in temperature from the air and sea. As it cools down it causes an inversion and a rush of cold sea air on to the land. This must be what happens in Oliver late in the afternoon.
Drinks at the Oxley, a beautiful old hotel. Here Jan shares her packing secret. Bring older knickers (underwear for those not speaking the Queen’s English) and throw them out after each use. Lightens the load going home. To which TJ says, “some people leave their heart in San Francisco, Jan leaves her knickers in New Zealand.” As you can imagine that has us all in hysterics.
Dinner is at the Thirsty Pig and it is delicious. Back home for a nightcap and reorganization of our bags. We were able to do laundry and put some away back in the big bags and change out our smaller bags for the next 3 single stop nights so that the big bags can stay in the van. Tomorrow we are off for our last week and the ferry to the North Island.